Lamb processors have initiated a pivot towards Asian export markets as post-Brexit trade frictions continue to mire existing routes into Europe.
In the first four months of the year, British lamb exports to non-EU markets almost doubled in size compared with the same period in 2019 and are now worth £8m [HMRC]. Over the same period, the percentage of total lamb exports going to the EU dropped from 97% to 93%.
“It’s definitely the start of a trend,” said Phil Stocker, CEO of the National Sheep Association. “The vast majority of exports still go to Europe, but processors are turning away from the EU towards other countries in Asia and the Middle East.”
The EU is a vital market for British meat exporters as it purchases cuts that processors often struggle to find demand for within the UK.
Countries such as Japan and Saudi Arabia, however, are usually more specialist in their meat demands and therefore would be unlikely to act as a direct substitution for lost EU trade, explained Stocker.
Processors may therefore have to focus on boosting demand in the UK, “but in doing that, you often see downward pressure on prices to try to make sure those volumes are shifted”, he added, pointing to its negative impact on farmer returns.
Farmers Fresh oversees exports of around 10% of the UK’s total lamb production and has spent the past few years developing alternative global markets in preparation for Brexit. It has particularly focused on Japan and the rest of Asia, though the Middle East and North America are also targets, said director Mike Gooding.
However, he warned “the one thing I’ve learned is that wherever you go in the world, you’ll find a Kiwi or Aussie already there”.
Australia and New Zealand have specialised in the long-distance market for decades and developed specialised mechanisation and processing facilities for extending shelf-life, he said. “If the UK is going to be serious in these markets we have a lot to do to catch up.”